Loved Spotlight? Here’s the Gold Walkley-winning Aussie who’s spent a decade covering the church abuse scandal

In Spotlight, a film about the Boston Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church’s massive cover-up of sexual assaults of children by priests, one of the worst moments comes at the end, with no drama at all: a long list of all the places around the world where similar scandals have emerged.

Including 20 cities across Australia.

Thankfully, Aussies also have Spotlight-like heroes, reporters who have done the brave work of digging up these stories. The standout is Joanne McCarthy, who in 2013 won the Gold Walkley after years of reporting at the Newcastle Herald on the sexual abuse of children, primarily by Catholic clergy.

Since our free screening of Spotlight last week for Walkley subscribers, we were inspired to revisit and reshare the reporting that won her that award.

“I am a regional person, and I think only a regional paper could have done this,” she said after winning the Walkley. “The truth is the truth. It doesn’t matter where it appears. You just have to keep banging away.”

And that she has done. In an email update, McCarthy summed up what’s happened since then.

  • Three years down the track, and particularly after the Royal Commission was announced, I’ve spoken to hundreds of victims. Way too many to count. The other significant wave of contacts after the RC was announced is the family members talking about the broader impact of abuse – the family breakdowns, suicides, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, to name a few.
  • The case of the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be charged with a conceal-type offence (i.e. not as an alleged perpetrator, but for allegedly not reporting a perpetrator to authorities) is working its way through the Hunter courts. He was charged after I took documents to police and a strikeforce investigated.
  • There have been quite a number more convictions in the Hunter since 2013 involving Catholic priests and Brothers; charges against Anglican youth workers; United Protestants, a Salvation Army-related case. I couldn’t tell you how many there have been without (checking), but quite a few. The Royal Commission is investigating serious issues involving the Newcastle Anglican diocese and is expected to hold a public hearing. And there’s a police strikeforce looking at historic Anglican matters in Newcastle after I ran a pile of articles about the diocese a year or so before the Royal Commission was announced.
  • I’ve also been working with a group of survivors and lawyers in the Hunter looking at suicides of students at Catholic high schools which has confirmed the suicides and violent deaths of a disturbing number of young men — the youngest 13, but others aged 15, 16 and 17 — from schools where teachers were years later convicted of appalling child sex offences.

The backlash has continued, though it’s not as fierce as it was, she added.

“I wouldn’t change any of it, though,” said McCarthy, who will have been covering the issue for a decade this June.

“I have met some of the most remarkable people of my professional career while doing this work.”

Shine the Light is a project of the Newcastle Herald: read it here.

Thanks to Entertainment One for our Spotlight screening in Sydney. Sign up for the Walkley newsletter here.